Trine 3 Devs On Short Length & Cliffhanger Complaints: “There Is Nothing Left On The Table”

I often lament that game companies don’t tend to admit when they’ve ballsed something up – paralysed by fear that it’ll affect marketshare or boardmember confidence. Today, we get to see what it looks like when a successful but small developer puts their hands up, admits there’s a problem and explains why. Does it feel any better?

Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power [official site] is the game in question, and its shortness and unresolved story are the cause of the drama.

In a fairly unusual step for This Sort Of Thing, devs Frozenbyte posted an announcement on Steam in response to assorted griping from the newly-released puzzle-platformer sequel’s players. This is probably the key line: “We still think the game is good but the cliffhanger story and the relative shortness of the game are valid criticisms but ones which we didn’t realize would cause a disappointment in this scale. Sorry!”

I guess I understand why game companies don’t often cop to failure. Even though Frozenbyte’s post opens with – and often repeats – a claim that they’re proud of Trine 3, it’s almost impossible not to interpret it as ‘our game is wonky, say developers.’ They acknowledge weaknesses and give explanations as to why that’s the case, which is hugely admirable. It takes serious chutzpah to have done this so soon. Or perhaps it just takes panic.

As for the why, the answer is, basically, money. Writes Frozenbyte vice-president Joel Kinnunen, “Back in late 2012, we set out to do Trine 3 in full 3D – bigger, badder, better. We took a big risk with the 3D gameplay implementation – it was to be a massive improvement over the previous games in several areas. We have always been ambitious and this time our ambition may have gotten the better of us.”

Trine 3’s development cost $5.4 million – three times what Trine 2 cost. Now, “there’s nothing left on the table. We initially had a much longer story written and more levels planned, but to create what we envisioned, it would have taken at least triple the money, probably up to 15 million USD, which we didn’t realize until too late, and which we didn’t have.”

Oof. It is perfectly understandable that they’d then want to get something out, in order to get at least some return from their years of work and millions of dollars in expenditure. It remains to be seen whether going public with their woes helps or harms Trine 3’s sales.

In any case, it doesn’t sound as though Trine 3 is a disaster by any stretch of the imagination (I haven’t played it yet, but have been watching its reception). 6 or 7 hours for a £15 game is scarcely unusual, and it’s a very pretty thing to look at. The trouble, it seems, is how unfavourably it compares to the larger Trine 2, with many feeling that the move to full 3D is not a worthwhile enough substitute. Some players are claiming to have completed the game even more quickly than Frozenbyte’s projections, and so are grumbling about value for money.

The cliffhanger ending is upsetting some players too, even more so now that it seems there are no plans in place to provide a proper ending. DLC’s not on the cards, say Frozenbyte in response to claims that Trine 3 was deliberately short in order to then sell add-ons. Now, “the future of the series is now in question, as the feedback, user reviews and poor media attention has caught us by surprise.”

It’s possible the Steam post will prompt a wave of curiosity and sympathy, and sales will pick up enough to buy the series a future. It’s also possible that the first many people will hear of it is the context of an apparent admission that the game wasn’t good enough, which probably isn’t going to convince them to buy it. It’s all a bit sad, given how beloved the fantastically pretty, good-natured Trine series was until now.

There have been technical niggles too, but Frozenbyte assure players these will be dealt with no matter what Trine’s future is. Says Joel, “Regardless we will continue to fix and update Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power, as we’ve always done with our games, and I’m confident we’ll get many issues fixed shortly (including some of the technical bugs and multiplayer problems). I apologize for those issues and I ask for your patience as we work those out.”

Some are saying that Frozenbyte should have revealed their cashflow problems during its six months in Early Access, and that they only bought it months ago because they were led to have certain expectations from it. Well, that’s Early Access for ya – always a gamble, for devs and players alike. No-one can possibly claim to know what to expect. However, in a slightly contradictory part of their mea culpa, Frozenbyte claim that “What we sold on Early Access was the ‘realistic’ vision and what we promised is what we have delivered, in our opinion.” This is perhaps a little at odds with the statement else “that we initially had a much longer story written and more levels planned.” I suspect it’s a case of crossing fingers that they’d be able to do more if Early Access did gangbusters, but sadly this does not appear to have been the case.

“Right now we need a breather to bounce back from all this,” ends Kinnunen. Let’s hope this isn’t the end for Trine: although Marsh wasn’t totally impressed with part 3 when he looked in on it a few months ago, this series has always seemed like a positive, elegant, quietly special thing in a world of noise and blood.

The full post is here.

53 Comments

  1. SanguineAngel says:

    I feel bad for them but I suppose they have themselves somewhat to blame.

    However:“What we sold on Early Access was the ‘realistic’ vision and what we promised is what we have delivered, in our opinion.”

    And

    “that we initially had a much longer story written and more levels planned.”

    Are not mutually exclusive.

    To my knowledge, they made no promises about the content or length of the story, any shortfall there would only be internal knowledge if they hadn’t ‘fessed up. From what I have heard, the game itself is solid and worth playing and isn’t skimping on promised features, is it?

    • tangoliber says:

      I think you mean they are mutually exclusive. Or they aren’t?

      I don’t know… Now, I’m confused.

      • Premium User Badge

        Phasma Felis says:

        I think the idea is that, while they would have liked to deliver a longer game, they kept that to themselves and didn’t overpromise, so that what they delivered is in line with what they publicly committed to. Which seems reasonable.

      • SanguineAngel says:

        Yeah, I did indeed mean that they are /not/ mutually exclusive. I understand that Alec’s playing a little devil’s advocate here but I don’t believe that these statements are at all contradictory and would suggest that they are even compatible in intent. There’s no double talking here that I can see and making out that there is seems unfair, in my opinion, to a dev that has taken a substantial risk in defying traditional industry wisdom to be honest about a fairly significant issue with the game at a time that is quite likely to have a very significant impact on sales.

    • blastaz says:

      Agree not mutually exclusive.

      Originally in 2012 they planned for money.

      They realised they were running out of money and cut the story.

      They opened to early access in 2015 and pitched the shorter version of the game. Or at least didn’t claim it would be 20 hours.

    • MisterFurious says:

      “From what I have heard, the game itself is solid and worth playing and isn’t skimping on promised features, is it?”

      From what I’ve seen, the gameplay is awful thanks to going to 3D, which was an incredibly stupid move. 3D platforming just does not work. It never has and it never will as long as we’re all using 2D monitors and 2D input devices. It’s just too difficult to see where you’re jumping to. The fact that they thought it was a good idea was stupid and the fact that they didn’t test it out before committing to it was even more stupid. TotalBiscuits vide of the game goes into great detail about the problems with going to a full 3D engine and it’s all things that they should’ve known before blowing all their money on making the game.

      • Relani says:

        “3D platforming just does not work. It never has and it never will as long as we’re all using 2D monitors and 2D input devices.”

        Uhhhh…Super Mario 64? :)

        • Relani says:

          And then someone mentions it in the comment right below me. Ha. That’s what I get for being a snarky jackass.

      • SanguineAngel says:

        TotalBiscuit’s vids aren’t exactly where you go for an even handed review. He earns his daily bread by being comically irascible even towards games he likes. They’re good for a laugh and for relief against a tide of traditionally sycophantic journalism though.

        As to your opinion regarding 3D platformers being intrinsically rubbish, well that’s fine but it cannot be taken as fact. I, for example, greatly enjoy a lot of 3D platformers. As a 3d puzzle-platformer Trine 3 seems to be generally well thought of, despite not aligning with your personal tastes.

        I suppose that you could reasonably assume that anyone like yourself, with a preference against the genre would steer clear of Trine 3 on this basis and so I do not really see an issue (other than perhaps their disappointment with the direction the franchise went, which is hardly unique to this situation) and I would say this does not bear much relevance to whether they honoured their stated goals with regards to the game.

        • Gertjan says:

          “He earns his daily bread by being comically irascible even towards games he likes.” I feel you’re attacking his person here and not his arguments. He recently reviewed Olliolli2 as well, he thought that was a fantastic game, so it’s not like he is always negative or angry. Go watch Totalbiscuits video about Trine3 and tell us all his complaints aren’t valid.

      • Deadly Sinner says:

        “2d” video already provides plenty of depth cues that easily allow you to percieve the spacial relationship between your player character and other objects. If it didn’t, 3D platformers wouldn’t be the only unplayable genre.

  2. Beernut says:

    Such a shame. I loved the original Trine and Trine 2 remains the only game to this day which I actually pre-ordered (and I was delighted, that it turned out to be even better than the original). But since the first trailer of Trine 3, I felt that transferring the series to a 3d-platformer is a huge mistake. Unless it’s done pretty much perfectly (we’re talking Super Mario 64 or Banjo Kazooie), 3d-platformers almost always end up with wonky controls or questionable camera-perspectives. The more elaborate puzzles and levels made possible by the 3d-design rarely outweigh those disadvantages as far as I’m concerned and based on the Trine-3-videos I’ve seen, this opinion’s not likely to change any time soon. I hope, that Trine 4 will revert the series back to the 2d-plane (with those beautiful 3d-graphics of course). But I will skip Trine 3 for this reason, no matter how long they make the game or how brilliant their new ending turns out to be. :(

    • horrorgasm says:

      Yeah! Punish yourself and those mean old devs for daring to try something different! Three cheers for willful ignorance and homogenization!

      • Beernut says:

        Punish myself? Trine 3 would annoy the hell out of me exactly because of this “different” thing they tried. I played enough 3d platformers to know that I just don’t care for the genre. And not buying a product because you don’t like it does by no means equal “punishing the developer for trying something different”!

  3. Agnosticus says:

    Really sad to hear. Even though I’m playing with the thought of buying the game now just out of solidarity for liking the first two games, I’ll probably wait until the game is a little cheaper to warrant the price tag.

    Also I fear that being honest now, will blow up in their faces and sales will stagnate as a result… :-/

    • Shuck says:

      “Also I fear that being honest now, will blow up in their faces and sales will stagnate as a result”
      Yeah, and this is why developers aren’t more honest and open – because it often blows up in their faces, compared to making empty, carefully polished statements.

  4. suibhne says:

    Frozenbyte are one of the good guys (er, folks) – stalwart indie PC developers with a long history on the platform, even when they added console versions to their lineup.

    And this – “Some are saying that Frozenbyte should have revealed their cashflow problems during its six months in Early Access” – is ridiculous. Almost every indie developer would have to “reveal their cashflow problems”, because indie developers don’t typically maintain a real cash reserve beyond their current project work. Yes, Frozenbyte should’ve revealed any changes to project scope from what was sold in Early Access, whether that scope change was driven by resource constraints or any other motivation, but that’s the limit.

    • Jalan says:

      The console release of the first game wasn’t far behind the PC release, so I don’t know if I’d say they were some strictly disciplined PC dev who only relented to putting out their titles on console after public demand warranted or anything.

      • suibhne says:

        I didn’t make any such claim, as Trine was cross-platform from the get-go. But Frozenbyte’s previous games were PC-only, and the dev has been staunchly pro-PC.

  5. TillEulenspiegel says:

    I don’t understand how they’re spending that much (an extra $10 million would pay a team of 40-50 for two years).

    Taking the same puzzle-platformer type of game and saddling it with a AAA budget just seems like a terrible idea. I can’t imagine many people being attracted by the fancy 3D-ness when Trine and Trine 2 were already lovely.

    • gwathdring says:

      5.4 million is hardly a triple-A budget in 2015. For the past 10 years or so, $10 to $15 million has been the low end for a AAA headliner release. Battlefield 3 spent about 3 million on facebook advertisements alone.

      Maybe they’re not the most efficient dev out there–not every studio is going to spend the same amount of money on the same project. But this isn’t a make-everything-state-of-the-art kind of budget. It’s not a one-guy-in-a-bedroom budget, either, but that’s surely to be expected from an established team with multiple successful projects trying to take their franchise in a new direction.

      • Shuck says:

        The AAA budget of today is a lot bigger than that of ten years ago, even. I don’t know what Finnish game dev salaries are like, but $15 million generally isn’t a AAA budget anymore (unless you’re developing somewhere particularly cheap, like Poland, say). Add at least another $10M to that, maybe. And that’s just development, not marketing (add at minimum another $10-$15 million for that). This is why there are fewer and fewer developers doing AAA games. It’s a big financial risk with diminishing returns for most developers.

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          DelrueOfDetroit says:

          Slap on a few more millions if you feel you need to have big name celebrity voice actors.

    • ninnyjams says:

      A team of 50 for two years? ROFL

      • blastaz says:

        Actually that seems generous if anything 10 mil 50 people 2 years works out at 100k per person per year. If you take the 50/50 split that’s a salary of 50k and 50k of back office costs. I imagine that if your willing to rent office space somewhere gribbly your back office costs are much cheaper than 50k per person per year (a few k of hardware, plus software licenses and utilities). This means you could pay better, have a reserve, or hirer more people for longer…

    • Neutrino says:

      No it wouldn’t.
      1) You can’t get skilled game devs for $20k, let alone the number of extra team leaders you would need to manage those additional 50 devs.
      2) The infrastructure required to house and equip those 40-50 devs (office rent, IT equipment and staff) would eat a goodly chunk of that $10M.

    • bill says:

      It’s pretty clear from the trailer where the money went.

      $5M is nothing close to an AAA budget. It’d imagine AAA games spend that on their cutscenes.

    • Deadly Sinner says:

      link to kotaku.com

      Modern AAA production budgets are around $50 million. This is not including advertising and such, which can baloon the budget to $200 million.

  6. zind says:

    I quite enjoyed Trine 3 but I was rather unhappy at the length, given the price. According to Steam I have 5.2 hours on record and in that time, not only have I 100%’ed the main game but I’ve afk’d for lunch, putzed around on the “game board” overworld for at least 30 minutes looking for secrets, and checked out a workshop creation or two. The workshop is the one thing keeping me from being totally disappointed in the game.

    The game is still on rails so strictly that the 3D-ness of it is very restricted (and usually adds, rather than subtracts, to the team’s credit). That said, the 3D is such a minimal part of the game that I’d have MUCH preferred a longer 2D game. A few of the puzzle rooms and most of the boss fights would have suffered without the 3D, but I think that having a full story would be a fair trade.

    My other gripe is how focused the game has gotten with regard to its mechanics. Often this is a good thing in games, but I personally thought that the faux-RPG trappings of the first gave the game a LOT of extra flavor. All three characters being reduced to a single unchanging set of skills made the game feel a lot more flat (ironically enough). The thief being my favorite character, I also dislike how the usage of her grappling hook is signposted by giant metal rings everywhere, and due to the 3D nature of the game, it’s very hard to play with momentum in the same way I used to be able to, in order to pull myself to tricky places.

    • gwathdring says:

      That’s about what I expected from watching trailers. I saw lots of tailored 3D where it didn’t seem to change the logic of things, just the look (now you’re coming out of the screen rather than walking along a platform towards screen left)but it otherwise looked like more of the same. Which, to be fair, is why I was interested! But it sounds like it’s far too little more of the same for the price of entry. :(

  7. Premium User Badge

    teije says:

    Interesting and cautionary tale of overreach and underdelivery not uncommon in software dev – I wonder what the reaction of players would have been if they had released Trine 3 as a more incremental change from Trine 2 – no 3D, but more substantial length/levels. Something like Shadowrun Returns Hong Kong compared to its predecessor.

    • jrodman says:

      Not sure what other players were thinking, but I was thinking “I love this 2d style”. Disappointed at the 3d change.

  8. Babymech says:

    “the future of the series is now in question, as the feedback, user reviews and poor media attention has caught us by surprise.”

    link to i59.tinypic.com

  9. gmillar says:

    The games is 20 bucks. No one has a right to complain about the length, sorry. The type of game doesn’t even interest me but I can easily see that it’s a fair price based on the production values. People are spoiled by sale prices these days.

    • Blue Shark says:

      No one has the right? I had no idea your word is above free speech. The game is 20 bucks… and FOUR hours long. With zero character progression and unfinished story. Anyone has the right to complain. I bought Trine 2 twice before release alone. Once just for the beta access and once to get an artbook. But compare it to this one and you can clearly see Trine 3 is a lesser deal. Waiting on sale. Their own fault they can’t manage a budget.

    • MisterFurious says:

      $20 is a lot of money to some people, dickwad. You don’t get to set the standard for the entire world to go by. You aren’t special.

    • SanguineAngel says:

      I can see where you are coming from – the game is clearly the work of a lot of effort. If the devs wish to charge $20/£15 then that is fair. Games are measured in more than length.

      However, that does not mean that its length cannot be important to some and certainly people are allowed to express their disappointment with it. Particularly if it has been admitted by the devs themselves that it is lacking in content. You can argue that it’s worth the price despite the length. You can even defend the length of the game. It’s up to each of us to determine whether the game is worth the asking price and make the appropriate purchasing decisions based on our own values.

  10. racccoon says:

    Pretty sure its french for la’trine. :)

    • Jalan says:

      Experimental builds were originally called Shithouse.

      (Before anyone reads too much into my response, I enjoy this game series but I also enjoy the chance to reference Robin Hood: Men in Tights as well)

  11. kalirion says:

    I feel that if they don’t “complete” the game using the funds from selling it in this form, they’ll lose nearly as much trust as Double Fine has with the Spacebase DF9 fiasco.

  12. treat says:

    I’ve never understood how the value of a game directly equates to the time it takes to complete it, and I definitely don’t understand why so many people subscribe to the notion. Why not the level of detail, originality, eloquence of mechanics or some other equally ambiguous quality? I’d be inclined to think it’s due to the need to attribute worth through some quantitative means if “length of game” were at all quantitative. It isn’t. If the blowhards who raced through Gone Home in 5 minutes and cried “ripoff!” showed us anything, it’s that.

    • Borodin says:

      I agree. On that basis a simple endless runner game is priceless!

    • Henke says:

      It’s more a question of storytelling and pacing than length. Portal, Limbo, and 30 Flights were all shorter, but didn’t feel too short, since their stories come to an end nicely. I haven’t played Trine 3 (yet) but it sounds like it comes to an end quite abruptly, and the story is left half-told. Noone wants that.

    • Agnosticus says:

      You’re right, but it seems – judging from a couple of videos – in Trine 3 those 5-7h isn’t all quality killer-no-filler time: There are still some annoying bugs, no character progression, unfinished story, camera issues, etc.
      The only thing that really stands out is the graphics, which are due to the 3d nature of the game, not quite as good-looking as in Trine 2.

      Taking that into account, the game isn’t worth the current price – for me at least.

      • epeternally says:

        Given their financial straights and the fact that Frozenbyte has a good relationship with Humble in the past, I can almost guarantee this will be in a Humble Bundle sooner than later. Probably as like a $10 top tier to begin with but still. There’s really no incentive to buy it at this point unless you really want to actively support them in releasing an incomplete and buggy game which… why would you?

        • Wormoxide says:

          Why Would you? Because if you could actually be bothered to play the game and not listen to the circlejerk. You would find the game is not buggy nor incomplete.

  13. amit3945 says:

    The only problem that I see is that the game ends abruptly…that’s it.
    The move to 3d though not as smooth as 2d really does not change much for me as I am in for the ride.(I am sure there are lots of fans who would agree with me on this.)
    It could have been smoother.
    Platforming in 3d with the fixed camera is an issue no doubt……but as it stands it’s not a deal breaker.

    The best way that FB can go about this is to complete the remaining story in 2d…as they are already masters of the 2d level design…so this shouldn’t be a problem at all.

    (They have already said that they had a longer campaign planned with more levels….so they should work on them in 2d. That should be fairly cost effective.)

    Just don’t keep the story hanging midway…that would really make fans sad.

    It’s not really a big deal that 3d didn’t work to the T in this case…(that’s what people are saying but i would disagree as the levels are now even more amazing than before.)

    The Trine games really are about traversing in a visually stunning fantasy world….and in this department FB has most definitely delivered in spades in Trine 3.

    The real issue is that there are not more levels for us to sink into.

    The lack of multiple boxes of different sizes or planks that the wizard can conjure up is the only gripe that I have w.r.t the skills/powers of the 3 heroes.

    The dollar/hr of ‘value’ that many are speaking of I think is more so due to the sudden end that the game has.
    Had they added 3-4 pure 2d levels to stretch the game length to 8-10 hrs..this would not have been an issue.
    Just a thought: Starting the game with a few 2d levels and then having 1-2 3d levels in between would have solved most of the ‘game length’ issues that we are seeing now.
    This would have given FB not only the experience w.r.t time/resources & expenses involved in 3d level creation but also the confidence to take a decision of weather or not to go full fledged into 3d for Trine 4 (if at all this was ever in their mind.)

    But this is of course in hindsight now and much easier for us non dev’s to pass judgement on.

    I really hope we don’t loose FB to this business and finance miscalculation on their part…that would be really bad.

  14. bill says:

    5-6 hours doesn’t bother me at all. It sounds about the right length for this kind of game. A cliffhanger ending might bug me though, depending on how it’s handled and whether the story in the game feels fulfilling.

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    syllopsium says:

    That is a pity. Loved Trine, haven’t really played Trine 2 for more than a few minutes, but it looks gorgeous and the built in 3D stereoscopic support is appreciated.

    Can’t see this ending well, though, it reminds me of Icewind Dale : Heart of Winter, where the devs shoved out an additional area when it became apparent they hadn’t delivered enough for the money..

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    MOOncalF says:

    After reading this article, I remembered that Trine 3 existed and was out of early access. So I went and bought it as I’d always intended to. It cost me a very reasonable $23AUD and I believe I got my money’s worth. I’ve spent more on less entertainment and I hope that there will be a Trine 4 because I think Trine 3 was sweet while it lasted. Contrary to disappointment, I find it comforting that the dev has ideas left over.